Tuesday, January 15, 2013
PORTLAND (AP) — An Oregon terrorism suspect allegedly waited just 12 minutes to tell a man he thought was an al-Qaida recruiter that he wanted to detonate a bomb in the U.S.
The purported recruiter was an undercover FBI agent in his first meeting with 21-year-old Mohamed Mohamud. The agent testified Monday under the pseudonym “Youssef” to a courtroom cleared of the public and media, who were allowed to watch a closed-circuit feed that didn’t show his face.
It was the fourth day of Mohamud’s trial on terrorism charges.
“I asked him what he’s willing to do,” the agent said. “He says he wants to wage war inside the U.S.”
According to the agent’s testimony, Mohamud wasted little time in spelling out his intentions, describing a plot similar to the one he is accused of attempting to carry out: a truck bomb parked near a public place, detonated from afar. The conversation wasn’t recorded because of a failed recorder battery, the agent said.
The details of Mohamud’s thinking in the early days of the investigation are key to both the prosecution and defense. If government attorneys can convince the jury that Mohamud was predisposed to committing terrorism before their agents intervened, they stand a better chance against Mohamud’s defense that he was entrapped.
Mohamud is accused of trying to blow up a November 2010 Portland Christmas tree-lighting ceremony. A set of six 55-gallon drums that he thought was a bomb was in fact a dummy device provided by the undercover agents, according to authorities.
The entrapment defense rests on the theory that Mohamud was persuaded to commit the crime, led into it by agents who gave him the idea and the means to carry it out. Entrapment defenses have failed in other, similar terrorism-sting operations.
“Youssef” testified that he was born in an Arabic-speaking country and came to the U.S. when he was 16. He was a business analyst and a software engineer before he joined the FBI eight years ago.
For nearly all of that time, he has served as an undercover agent in four face-to-face operations and more than a dozen online operations. He is now based in San Francisco, but came to Portland for the Mohamud operation.
Even after their initial meeting on July 30, 2010, in which Mohamud allegedly professed a desire to detonate a bomb, the agent said he wasn’t convinced of Mohamud’s sincerity.
“At this point, I still don’t believe he’s going to move forward with anything,” the agent testified. “I figured it was all talk.”
Government prosecutors noted the failed recorder battery, but showed surveillance photos of Mohamud and the man they said was “Youssef,” his face in the picture obscured by a gray box.
Led by a prosecutor’s questions, the agent went to some length to establish that he came into the operation without preconceived notions of Mohamud’s guilt, and repeated that he was unsure about Mohamud’s resolve. His testimony was to continue today.
Before the trial adjourned for the day, the jury saw a 15-minute surveillance video that documented Mohamud’s first contact with “Hussein,” who he thought was an al-Qaida explosives expert but who was in fact another undercover agent.
The two agents brought Mohamud food, which he hungrily dug into with his hands, while hearing him out on his personal frustrations with his parents. Mohamud said in the video that his mother doesn’t believe in the radical elements of Islam, and his father “betrayed” him when he conveyed his worries to the FBI.
Mohamud’s father called the FBI in 2009 after Mohamud said he wanted to travel to Yemen, a hotspot for al-Qaida training camps.
Earlier Monday, FBI agent Miltiadis Trousas, who led the electronic side of the operation against the 21-year-old Somali-American, testified that Mohamud showed a persistent eagerness to contact a man he thought was an al-Qaida recruiter in Yemen.
“(Pray) that I will be a martyr in the highest chambers of paradise,” Mohamud wrote to a friend in an email quoted by Trousas. Mohamud already was under surveillance because of his emails to an American-born al-Qaida recruiter.
“He’s talking about martyrdom here,” Trousas said.
“And why did that concern you?” asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight.
“He might be doing something that would endanger people,” Trousas replied.
Trousas said other communication by Mohamud convinced the bureau that he was “already radicalized and dangerous.”